Polenta Fries

Serve these creamy-crunchy fries at a party, and your guests may forget there’s such a thing as a potato. This polenta, by the way, is a much sturdier recipe than the rich, creamy sort you would want to serve on its own. As such, it can be made up to 3 or 4 days ahead, as can the Blue Cheese Vinaigrette (page 20), so perfect for dipping them into.

Serves 8

3 tablespoons butter, divided

1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced

1 tablespoon peeled and minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves

1 cup buttermilk

5 cups water

2 cups cornmeal

Canola oil, as needed for frying

Flour, as needed for dredging

Salt, to taste, or finely grated Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper

Polenta Fries continued

         1. Grease an 11” × 17” rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Set aside.

         2. In 3- or 4-quart saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper, garlic, and sage; cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the garlic is golden and the butter starts to brown, about 4 to 6 minutes.

         3. Add the buttermilk and water, and bring to rolling boil. (Note: The mixture will curdle, but don’t be alarmed; it will smooth out when the polenta is added.) Gradually shake in the cornmeal, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.

         4. Reduce heat to medium and continue stirring as the polenta thickens, adjusting the heat so the mixture bubbles but does not burn. Cook until the bottom of the pan is visible as you stir and the polenta looks thick and dry, about 10 minutes. (Note: The polenta should hold its shape when mounded, and settle slowly.) Remove from heat.

         5. Spread the polenta in an even 1/2-inch-thick layer in the prepared pan. (Hint: A slightly wet spatula makes spreading easier.) Refrigerate until thoroughly cool; chilled polenta can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 4 days.

         6. Add canola oil to a depth of 1 inch in a heavy, 3-inch-deep skillet. Heat over medium-high heat to 350°F. To test the temperature, drop a small scrap of polenta into the oil; it should sizzle immediately and vigorously, rising to the surface. If it doesn’t rise to the surface, or if it bubbles lazily, the oil is not hot enough.
If it burns quickly, it’s too hot; reduce heat slightly and test again after a few minutes. Meanwhile, cut the chilled polenta into
1/2-inch-thick, 3-inch-long “fries.”

         7. Working with about 10 pieces at a time, dredge the fries very lightly in flour, knocking off any excess, and drop into the hot oil; stir often to keep them from sticking together. Fry until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes, and transfer to paper towels to drain. Season immediately with salt or Parmesan cheese and pepper.